Mr. Kalsbeek is a teacher in Covenant Christian High School and a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan.

“And the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.”

I Chronicles 12:32

“We must rethink our ideas about God; we should place less emphasis on Christ as a person and a redeemer. We should put the Bible away for 20 years while we radically rethink our religious ideas.”1 Those words were spoken by Roman Catholic priest Father Thomas Berry, in the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York. In 1994 in that same cathedral the then Vice President, Albert Gore, proclaimed, “God is not separate from the earth.”2 Mr. Gore said this during a service in which nature was honored by parading a camel and elephant up and down the aisles while worshipers carried a bowl of compost and worms in a procession to the altar.

From the previous articles we have written about Eastern ideas, it should be clear that the references in the paragraph above have obvious Eastern overtones. Could it be that the Eastern ideas, which are becoming so much a part of mainstream American society, are also influencing the church? If so, what effect is it having? How could this have happened? Should these developments concern modern-day Issachar?

The Church under the Spell of the East

It is not difficult to demonstrate that the nominal church, along with Western society, has fallen under the spell of Eastern mysticism. In his book Spirit Wars, Peter Jones writes,

Does the average Christian know what is going on in our ostensibly civilized society? Pagan ideology, sometimes of the most radical and anti-Christian nature, is taught in university departments of religion, theological seminaries, mainline church agencies, feminist networks and wicca covens across the land. It adopts the name of Christianity, but will render our world unrecognizable.3 

From Jones’ perspective the average Christian does not know what is going on, and even if he did know, he is not prepared to present a viable challenge to it. Let’s allow Jones to speak for himself:

Unfortunately the average couch-potato Christian, so often consumed by the great American materialistic dream and nurtured by that moronic national baby sitter, TV—itself controlled by materialists and humanists serving New Age goals—would seem to be no match for the sleek, vegetarian, highly spiritual, well-read, occult-driven conspirators of the Aquarian Age.4 

Could it be that Jones is seeing that which does not exist, and without justifiable cause is crying “wolf, wolf”? The evidence from some additional sources would suggest otherwise:

Liberal theologians are of course ready to join hands with channelers and the astrologers of this age, believing that spiritual experiences are of equal value. The Reverend Gene Seely, an ordained United Methodist minister, says he is quite ready to climb out on a limb with Shirley MacLaine—at least most of the way. One cannot watch her growth, he says, without recalling the parable of Christ about the new wine in old wineskins. Only stretchable wineskins can accommodate the ferment of new truth.

The minister says we must allow for the fact that God may be revealing Himself through experiences such as that of the famous actress. After all, he asks, “How then is the church to deal with such things as reincarnation, trance channeling, out-of-body experiences, clairvoyance, extraterrestrials, telepathy, intelligent energy fields, and non physical entities?”5

A few pages deeper in their book, Lutzer and DeVries further establish Eastern influence on the church when they write:

We should not be surprised to find that Schuller (Rev. Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, ck) has now taken the next step and accepted the techniques of Hinduism to find satisfaction and results through positive thinking. He argues that the meditation found in different Eastern religions is quite compatible with the Judeo-Christian religion. Both, he says, desire to overcome the distractions of the conscious mind. He regards these methods, regardless of their origin, as neutral from a religious point of view and hence beneficial to all. “The most effective mantras employ the ‘M’ sound. You can get the feel of it by repeating the words, ‘I am, I am’ many times over…. Transcendental meditation is not a religion nor is it necessarily anti-Christian.”6

After reading that, it does not surprise us when we also hear of Rev. Schuller’s conciliatory meetings with Muslim leaders. In fact, in a meeting with Iman W. Deen Mohammed, Schuller is reported to have said to the Muslim leader that if he was absent from the earth and came back after a hundred years to find his descendants Muslim, it wouldn’t bother him—so long as they weren’t atheists. Remember now, this is from a graduate of Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. Remember, too, that Rev. Schuller reaches twenty million viewers from his Crystal Cathedral.

Effects of this Eastern Influence

As this openness to Eastern religions has increased in the churches, so also have many Eastern worship practices become more prevalent. For example, those who live in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area (and we suppose in manyother areas around the nation) have observed over the years a significant interest in Taize worship services. These services have no preaching, only prayer, song, and Scripture and are “intended to awaken one’s inner spirituality.” As reported in the Grand Rapids Press, numerous Taize services were held in Western Michigan last year. A few snippets from the Press article will give a taste of the Eastern flavor of these services:

Taize (pronounced ta-zay) worship services, named after a Christian community in France, are growing in popularity across America.

A Taize chant and time of silence will be part of the annual community interfaith Thanksgiving service.

The repetitive choruses of Taize and its emphasis on personal reflection incline worshippers toward deeper prayer….

It’s kind of a way to center yourself, to go deeper within yourself to feel God’s presence….7 

Gene Edward Veith connects the Eastern influence on the churches to the increasing decadence of Western culture in general and the mainline churches of the West in particular. Veith writes:

As Christianity becomes less of a presence in our culture, the ancient pagan religions are rushing in to the void. Pro-gressives had always assumed that once Christianity faded, people would do without religion entirely. But this was naïve. Without an advanced religion like Christianity, people are reverting to what came before, to nature worship, neo-animism, and primitive superstitions.

…the culture’s moral shifts may be a cultural reversion to paganism, which sometimes used prostitution and homosexuality as means of religious awakening and which often tolerated euthanasia and infanticide. 8

A rise in paganism in America does appear to be evident. As our society seeks more and more to distance itself from anything that would connect it to Christianity, it has been adopting practices that have their roots in paganism. The example of “The Burning Man” practiced every Labor Day weekend in Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada is a case in point:

Severed animal heads are roasted over a flame; people dressed as demons perform pagan rituals; men and women dance nude before fiery idols as a starry night softly illumines the flat desert around them…. The festival is called “The Burning Man,” so-named because of the celebration’s centerpiece: a towering, 40-foot, wooden, faceless being erected in the middle of the pagan campground and burned on the final night….

The festival’s finale is on Saturday night, as the attendees observe and participate in a drama which celebrates the knowledge that they will all one day enter hell. The crowd follows the actors from one huge structure to another, simulating their descent into the abyss.9

As bazaar as it may appear, “The Burning Man” is a growing phenomenon in “Christian” America. The celebration has grown from 10,000 participants in 1997 to 30,000 in 2000 with other “Burning Man” celebrations beginning to take place in other parts of the country. Furthermore, many of the participants once professed Christianity, but now have turned their backs on God.

While the movement toward paganism is growing in the United States, Veith believes that “the main religious shift in American culture is not so much to overt paganism as to syncretism, the attempt to combine a biblical faith with a pagan one.”10 In agreement with Veith is Peter Jones, whose book The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back emphasizes that same point, and demonstrates how today’s conflict with the New Age movement is very much like the ancient church’s struggle with gnosticism; thus the title of his book. Veith, however, makes the point that this syncretism is manifesting itself on an institutional level as well. To illustrate the point, he informs us of the Agape International Spiritual Center in suburban Los Angeles. This organization of some 7000 members calls itself a church but “makes no pretense of being Christian at all.”11 Rather, Agape International is a multi-religious group of Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Buddhists.

Closer to home, Veith assesses the ecumenical movement. In so doing he notes that in the 1960s the ecumenical movement “…tried to reconcile various Christian traditions. Today, it tries to reconcile the various world religions.” Closer still, Veith writes, “Even many ostensible evangelicals are showing signs of pagan flirtation. The ‘openness of God’ theologians are jettisoning the attributes of the transcendent God who has always been worshipped by Christians in favor of a lesser god who is not all-knowing, outside of time, or all-powerful.” 12

If that is representative of New Age influence on the national religious scene, what does it look like on the international level? Even worse … at least if half of what Mr. John F. McManus writes in The New American is true! McManus describes an organization called United Religions, which “would have all faiths abandon their core beliefs and join together in a worship-the-earth form of religiosity.”13 McManus further informs us that “Support for the entire undertaking came from former UN Assistant Secretary General Robert Muller, now chancellor of the University of Peace in Costa Rica.” The organizers, with its more than 700 supporters from leaders of the world’s religions, hope to have the United Religions fully functioning by 2005. Rather ominously, Mr. Muller has remarked that peace among the world’s religions “will be impossible without the taming of fundamentalism through a United Religions that professes faithfulness only to the global spirituality and to the health of the planet.”14 (SB readers may want to check out the progress of this movement on the Internet.)

How must modern-day Issachar view these Eastern influences on the church? Lutzer and DeVries may very well be on target in viewing it as part of Satan’s strategy to deceive the nations of the world:

To do this he must redefine mankind’s definition of God. Rather than thinking of God as the personal Creator, Satan would like man to think of God as everything that exists. Then man can think of himself as God too.

Second, Satan wants to redefine death so that people think of it as a pleasant transition without any accountability to a personal God. You just go around as many times as you need to, and eventually you will get to nirvana.

Third, he wants us to come to our own definition of what is good and evil. Moral relativism serves his purpose because it breaks down the fiber of a nation and leads to personal emotional entrapment.

Fourth, he promotes esotericism, the belief that reality can be reduced to a personal experience of enlightenment. Man can feel initiated as an enlightened one if he has the right mystical encounter.15

…to be continued.

1.Fred Gielow, You Don’t Say (Boca Raton, Florida: Freedom Books, 2000), p. 63

2.Gielow, p. 64.

3.Peter Jones, Spirit Wars (Escondido, CA: WinePress Publishing, 1997), p. 35. 

4.Peter Jones, The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back (New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1992), p. 96. 

5.Erwin W. Lutzer and John F. DeVries, Satan’s Evangelistic Strategy For This New Age (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1989), p. 114.

6.Lutzer, p. 120.

7.Matt VandeBunte, “Hearing God’s Voice,” The Grand Rapids Press, p. 23 Nov., 2002:B 1.

8.Gene Edward Veith, “A God in Their Own Image,” World 6 May, 2000: 16.

9.AFA Journal, September, 1997: 6.

10.Veith, p. 16.

11.Gene Edward Veith, “The New Multi-faith Religion,” World 15 December, 2001:16.

12.Gene Edward Veith, “A God in Their Own Image,” World 6 May, 2000:16. 

13.John F. McManus, “United in Godlessness,” The New American 14 April, 1997:44.

14.McManus, p. 44.

15.Lutzer, p. 28.